Let me start with something that is, I feel, pretty indisputable: Warcraft III is a pretty great video game. Even taking away its impact on gaming and the various modifications and custom maps and stuff, I think the game itself is a good one. So any review of Warcraft III: Reforged kind of has to start with that fact. Without wildly altering the game, no matter what is done, the basic game being adapted is a good title, and while you can have a better or worse adaptation, you’re still starting from a solid baseline.
But then, that’s sort of the problem, isn’t it? Blizzard’s newly released Warcraft III: Reforged didn’t have to change a whole lot, but it manages to pretty conclusively flub the things it does change along the way with only one real exception. It’s almost more fair to say that because it was working from a good baseline, even all of the mistakes made don’t make the game bad, but they certainly produce an end product that feels far less interesting than both the announced plans and even the existing version.
Far from a remaster, this is more like a de-master. It’s less mastered than before.
Rather than going through line-by-line with evaluation, I feel it’s more useful to compare the features that were promised for Reforged in various interviews and the announcement to what we got. And on one specific goal – giving everything a new and improved model – it delivered excellently. Far from the blocky and limited models of the game’s initial release, the unit models are absolutely gorgeous and managed to both retain the feel of the original versions and look far more attractive.
Beyond that, though?
Remastered cutscenes? Not there, unless you count “upscaled old pre-rendered cutscenes” and “in-engine cutscenes using the new models” to qualify. Unit diversity? Well, a few story units no longer use the generic model and there are exactly two lady skins for heroes you can forcibly toggle on for multiplayer or custom games. You can use the skins in the map editor… in an option that requires a fair bit of digging and is wholly non-intuitive, requiring a couple of nights of digging to even find it. New maps? Well… the maps have some new textures and some different assets, but I certainly haven’t noticed anything that made me sit up and say, “My, this is different.”
All of these are improved features touted as selling points, which the game is lacking. Beyond that, it’s also lacking features that didn’t even need to be added because the original game already had them. Custom games, for example, were bugging badly on launch, and custom campaigns are completely inaccessible… despite the fact that you can still make them in the editor. Many existing custom games? Not working. Swapping between online and offline modes can severely screw up your campaign progress.
These issues run the gamut of being baffling, frustrating, and downright bad decision-making. Cross-compatibility between old and new versions was literally a selling point of the remake, and that doesn’t appear to be the case in any capacity beyond the fact that owners of the original version have been forcibly upgraded to compatibility with the new. So if you want to take part in competitive play, well… this is maybe a net benefit for you? But it means that even people not buying the upgrade are still suffering from issues like a total lack of custom campaigns.
So what the heck happened? Well… we’re never going to know, exactly, but I can guess on at least a couple of points.
The improved cutscenes seem to have gotten scrapped around the same time that the developers were talking about bringing the game closer in line with current lore. I’m not sure, exactly, but I would imagine that was meant more about addressing niggling little lore issues between the much fuzzier geography of WCIII compared to World of Warcraft, like correcting dialogue if it called Quel’thalas north of Lordaeron when it’s really more northeast.
Still, fans weren’t happy about the suggestion, and to be real, it’s a suggestion I don’t like either. Acting like the story of the game needed to be updated when the later game was incompatible with it could just address little issues, but it could also lead to rewrites that tried to create a world where nonsense characterization for Sylvanas would make sense after the fact. So any lore changes were scuttled, and I have a feeling that any real effort to change the cutscene presentation was killed at the same time.
Custom campaigns? Well, it looks like the backend and launcher was pretty heavily redesigned as part of this process, and the end goal was facilitating the competitive side of things. (Every single beta was focused on that, after all.) If that proved more difficult to do, well, something had to give way… and if you think of the custom maps and games as primarily a way to create specialized competitive maps instead of, say, multiplayer narrative experiences? Well, put that off for a patch, if ever. That’s not why people wanted these games, right?
It might also have something to do with the redesigned campaign interface, to be fair. It’s a mess either way.
What keeps the whole thing from being truly dire is, well… it’s Warcraft III. As mentioned above, this is already a good game. All that the designers had to do was not screw with it, and despite everything you might expect from the fact that it’s Blizzard, the game remains un-screwed-with. Yes, that means promised enhancements aren’t in and there are bizarre launcher problems that shouldn’t be there, but once you get into an actual map and start playing, there’s a sort of relieved sigh to be had.
Of course, this does bring with it some minor issues since, you know, StarCraft II is not exactly a new game and it already had fixes like removing the group selection limits. But that also gets into questions of what the game is supposed to be, and it seems clear to me that wild changes to that were never in the cards. The game remains focused on small skirmishes as you build up your forces and roaming about to level your heroes between bursts of combat. As it has been.
There’s at least some faint reason to hope that some of the things missing are missing only for now, that this launch state is the result of getting the game out the door and patching back missing features later. But we know, for example, that the game isn’t supposedly going to be adding new skins for purchase via microtransactions, and while it’s not a bad buy if you don’t own the game at $30… as an enhancement to a game, it’s pretty weak. Even without buying into the upgrade proper, you can’t just play the old game without some convoluted workarounds, and that’s true even if you’re loading it up and patching via your original game CDs.
The total lack of communication from Blizzard a couple days out from launch isn’t particularly heartening, either; rather than giving the sense of this being a game that’s getting supported, the team seems as if it expected it would ship and then there’d be no need for much additional work. Which means that the promise of this remake, the one bright spot in BlizzCon 2018, has been squandered entirely.
Same game, new graphics, features removed, almost none of the promised additions. Blizzard Entertainment, everyone.